Senator says Transportation Chair should be shown the door

Link to article here. There’s a battle brewing in the State Senate, thanks to courageous lawmakers like Senate Transportation Committee Chair Senator John Carona! Here, here, it’s time for Williamson to go! Another Williamson re-appointment would have to be approved by the Senate which seems unlikely, but Perry could still play a few tricks and have him serve indefinitely on a technicality!

Senator says Perry should replace transportation chief
Carona says Ric Williamson has ‘worn out his welcome’

By Ben Wear
Friday, January 19, 2007

Gov. Rick Perry should find someone other than his longtime friend Ric Williamson to lead the Texas Transportation Commission, the chairman of the Senate’s transportation committee said Thursday.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said Williamson’s “abrasiveness” and single-minded commitment to toll roads and privatization as the solution to traffic congestion “has worn out his welcome in many communities across the state.”

“I think it would be in the best interest of the state that he step aside in favor of new leadership on the commission,” he said.

Williamson, whose six-year appointed term ends Feb. 1, declined to comment, citing a standing policy of not responding publicly to statements made by elected officials.

Perry spokesman Robert Black said significant changes such as those the governor and Williamson have made to how roads are built will inevitably ruffle some feathers.

“If Sen. Carona is one of those whose feathers are a bit ruffled, then so be it,” Black said. “The governor has to think about the long-term transportation viability of this state, and he’s going to do it.”

Black said Perry has not made a decision about the Williamson slot on the commission.

Williamson, if reappointed during the current legislative session, would not be able to serve beyond the end of the session in late May unless confirmed by the Senate. However, Perry could choose to appoint no one during the session. Under that scenario, Williamson could serve in holdover status indefinitely.

Commissioner John Johnson, for example, has continued to serve even though his term expired during the 2005 legislative session. Perry recently named a replacement.

Williamson, an oil executive from Weatherford, served in the Legislature from 1985 to 1998, a period that overlapped with some of Perry’s time in the House. He was appointed to the commission by Perry in March 2001 and was named chairman effective Jan. 29, 2004.

Williamson, particularly since becoming chairman, has been a dogged advocate for Perry’s toll road policies, including having the Texas Department of Transportation analyze all new highway construction for the possibility of charging tolls.

Perry, who has a general aversion to tax increases, supports tolls because users pay for the roads, rather than the public, and because they allow borrowing so roads can be built sooner than they might otherwise be.

In addition, Williamson and the commission have aggressively moved the department toward reaching agreements with private companies, typically at the companies’ expense, to build and operate tollways as private concessions on state-owned highway right of way. The centerpiece of that policy is the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, a network of tollways, railroads and utility corridors paralleling the existing interstate highways.

Carona, who has led the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee since February, has made it clear that he diverges from Perry and Williamson on much of that agenda. Carona supports toll roads in certain circumstances, but he said Thursday that the Trans-Texas Corridor plan was a mistake and that turning highway construction over to private operators is wrong. Such arrangements, Carona said, lead to higher tolls than if government agencies were running tollways.

He supports allowing the state’s 20-cents-a-gallon gas tax to increase with an inflation index tied to the growth in highway construction costs and has filed a bill this session to make that happen.

He said Williamson has not been open to that and other options.

“Ric Williamson and his group take any discussion that seems to move away from their core position as a threat,” Carona said. Williamson is bright and committed to transportation, Carona said, and always cooperative in appearing before legislators to discuss the subject.

“He is quick to speak, but not necessarily quick to listen,” Carona said. “I think with the new session and the governor’s new term, it would be a good time to begin a new relationship.”